Fighting Ruben Wolfe by Markus Zusak

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Fighting Ruben Wolfe by Markus Zusak

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Category: Teens
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Gritty novella about tough lives in tough neighbourhoods at tough economic times. Short, sharp and punchy, it has moments of savage humour and pure pathos. There's poetry in every life - even when it's seeped in violence.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 224 Date: January 2010
Publisher: Definitions
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 1862309574

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The Wolfe family are only just getting by. Times are hard for Cameron and his older brother Ruben. Their father has been injured at work and even though he's mostly recovered now, he's finding it hard to get jobs and the ultimate emasculation of the dole is looming ever nearer. Older brother Steve has ambitions and he can't wait to get out of the house. Sister Sarah is drinking too much and getting a tarty reputation at school. Their mother's fighting to hold things together, but it's taking a heavy toll. Cameron and Rube can't even manage to win a bet at the dog track - even when they get a policeman to put it on for them.

And then Rube gets into a fight at school in defence of Sarah's good name. Word gets around and a man who runs fighters in an underground boxing league gets in touch. He wants both Wolfe brothers. At fifty dollars a fight, it might help them break out of this cycle of despair. But soon, it's about more than the money. It's about fighting for who they are, for dignity, for a future; about not getting put down over and over again...

You'll remember Markus Zusak for The Book Thief, a dazzling story of Nazi Germany and the way in which words have the power to set you free. Fighting Ruben Wolf is a much earlier book, getting a fresh cover and a welcome reissue by Definitions. It's also a very different book. Short where The Book Thief was long, sharp and realistic where The Book Thief was dense and stylised - there's a huge gulf between them. But the understanding and use of words is exactly the same - affecting, arresting and full of power.

It's a top notch kitchen sink drama, with moments of savage humour and pure pathos. Ruben is the better fighter but he has an anger in him that threatens to take over. Cameron is the dreamy and gentle one, but he fights anyway, for his brother and for hope. While Ruben berates himself for lacking his brother's humanity, Cameron wants to live up to his brother's ability to put himself on the line in such a visceral way. But it's the bond between them that will save them, and by extension, save their family too.

It's harsh and angry and sad, but it's also hopeful, touching and uplifting, and I loved it.

My thanks to the good people at Definitions for sending the book.

If they like the look of Fighting Ruben Wolfe, they might also enjoy Asboville by Danny Rhodes, which deals with ASBOs. Dirty Angels by Andrew Clover has a central character that reminded me very much of Cameron Wolfe, is equally gritty, but has a few more belly laughs. Apples by Richard Milward puts poetry into very bleak lives.

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Buy Fighting Ruben Wolfe by Markus Zusak at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Fighting Ruben Wolfe by Markus Zusak at


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